After Michael Jackson’s rush to the hospital on Thursday, his attorney, Brian Oxman, told CNN, “The people who have surrounded him have been enabling him. If you think the case of Anna Nicole Smith was an abuse, it's nothing in comparison to what we have seen taking place in Michael Jackson's life.”
Famous people attract leeches. We only have to look at the sad cases of Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley. Yet, enablers don’t generally walk into our lives unbidden. We gravitate toward those who confirm our comfortable illusions and intractable habits. Let’s not kid ourselves; we all do it.
In my novel, April & Oliver, published this
month, both main characters surround themselves with enablers. For
April, it’s the more conventional kind. She has a habit of hard living and
dangerous men because, frankly, feeling numb is what seems normal to her, and
living in a rough environment is one way to maintain that. Her cronies at the
bar and assorted male counterparts are surely not going to say, “Hey, do you
think this lifestyle is good for you?” Why would they when they get part of the
For Oliver, the enabling is more subtle. He is a successful law student happily engaged to a sensitive, caring person who is also a super-achiever. The hitch is that Oliver has, for the sake of convenience, snuffed out an essential part of himself - his music. Music was his portal to the full measure of life experience, with all its rapture and pain, but it became too much for him, so he buried it. His fiancé is an enabler in the sense that she sees nothing truncated about him. She is unaware of the touchstone that once kept him grounded and open to life. All of the external measures say he is fine, so it must be so. He’s not, of course. When his life again collides with April’s, turmoil erupts because they do not uphold one another’s illusions. Rather than enable, they call each other on their inconsistencies, and sparks erupt.
Who is the better friend, I wonder, one who comforts and affirms, or one who says, when needed, “What the hell are you doing with your life?”
In an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “His Moves Expressed as Much as His Music,” Alastair Macaulay writes that Jackson’s kinetic genius on the dance floor, praised by Fred Astaire, mutated over time into something more choreographed and precise, but less spontaneous.
The quality that diminished over time, Macaulay asserts, is vulnerability, which the later Jackson apparently felt compelled to hide. That vulnerability was his poetry. Authentic poetry can only issue from a place of raw honesty, and how is that possible without genuine friends with whom to be honest?
The purpose of addiction, whether to painkillers, alcohol, abuse, or overwork, is to numb ourselves. And, why not? Isn’t life painful without the occasional crutch? But when occasional becomes chronic, the wall we erect against pain can only fissure. The French geo-physicist, Xavier Le Pichon, known for his comprehensive model of plate tectonics, has written nimbly about the necessity of those cracks in our lives through which pain enters, and through which we can achieve genuine compassion for others. The absence of those fissures, geologically or psychologically, can only lead to quakes. More on that tomorrow. For now, I am going to give some thought to my own subtle addictions, the enablers I invite in, and the way I enable others. Is it OK to throw up my hands and say a loved one works too much because he wants to? Or does live and let live have its limits?